I will never forget the first time a stranger approached me and complimented my outfit. I was 15 and self-conscious, sitting at a high-top in a cafe and waiting to be interviewed for my first job. My leg was shaking and my thrifted loafers were clicking against the metal leg of the chair.
“I love your shoes, where did you get them?” asked the girl from the table next to me.
The girl was dressed more confidently than I thought I ever could be. She pushed her chair back to stand up and approach me. Shocked and flattered, I told her that I got them at The Salvation Army on Virginia Beach Boulevard.
The girl, Emily, continued to ask about my life and ended up encouraging and hyping me enough to settle my nerves before the interview. Her face held so much emotion and genuine interest, I felt a warm level of connection with this stranger. My leg stopped shaking.
The roots of my love for conversation with new people stem from my grandmother, Yoya. Wherever Yoya went, she would make a new friend. Whether it was in the dressing room at T.J. Maxx or at the cash register in the grocery store, she was bound to make a comment or ask a question about whoever was in our vicinity.
There was a connection found in every checkout line. There was a story to be heard or shared in every waiting room. And as I grew up around her conversational heart, the habit seemed to also seep into my own character seamlessly.
By the time I was 14, there was a new rule I lived by: If you think a positive thought about somebody, tell them. And so, almost excessively, I did exactly that. Although on occasion I would get a weird look from a friend for complimenting a stranger’s outfit on the street, the habit almost became a compulsion. And, for the most part, these comments were well received.
Living by this rule led to countless hour-long conversations in coffee shops with people I had never met before. And, it has given me the confidence to reach out to people whom I have seen multiple times but never spoke to before. Living by this rule started friendships and introduced me to circles of people I would have never been immersed in otherwise. Living by this rule has given me insight into human nature, in the sense that we all seek connection with one another.
I have had friends ask me how I am confident enough to approach strangers in the way that I do. And let me be completely honest; there have been times when I have indeed embarrassed myself. Sometimes when the compliment is oddly specific or I fumble over my words, I regret saying anything at all. When this happens, however, I make sure to ask myself, “When was the last time you were mad that someone gave you a compliment?” and almost instantly I forget my embarrassment or regret.
Talking to strangers has taught me another valuable lesson; most of the people you see aren’t always that much different from you. While your experiences and perspective might be drastically different, the fears, insecurities and emotions that you experience are typically shared. It doesn’t matter if that person is 10 years older than you or from across the world; it is likely that person has experienced loss or heartbreak. It is likely that they have experienced joy or falling in love.
This lesson is what has brought me a sense of comfort when I feel irrational social anxiety creeping its way up my throat. This lesson is what has allowed me to be vulnerable when I write these articles. This lesson is what motivates me to continue to share my experiences, however personal or embarrassing, to denunciate the idea that any of us are immune to the negative experiences in this life.
And by doing so, by continuing to share openly and honestly, I hope that the words I write and the compliments I give will turn strangers into friends or, at the very least, forge a connection with another based on humility and vulnerability.
That being said, I have loved writing weekly pieces for the Accent. It has forced me to process the experiences I have gone through as a 19 and 20-year-old college student. I want to thank you, the reader, for reading this article this far and for reading any other article I have written.
I am taking a break from sharing my thoughts and experiences through this school paper. My energy is being pulled in different directions, and therefore it is time for me to take my words elsewhere. You can find me mostly on Instagram, where I will share any other publications of my work. However, if you see me on campus, feel free to come up to me. Even if we are strangers. Especially if we are strangers. We probably have a lot in common.